When the kill finally came, it was clinical. After seven weeks of doing everything they could to keep Wagner safe, skilfully manipulating the “vote Wagner” campaigners who mistakenly thought they were annoying the show by voting for him, week 8 saw producers do everything they could to get him out. They succeeded.
It was a texbook case of manipulation, with tactics more subtle and extensive than those which had occurred to us in our post five days before the show, in which we speculated on how they might get Wagner out when the time came.
It was brutal. It was brilliant. And it deserves to go down in the annals as a case study for future reference. Here is our attempt to do it justice. So, how did the show shaft Wagner? Let us count the ways. We’ve got it up to 28. Think you spotted tactics we missed? Do let us know in the comments box.
1. Our commenter Lee suggested a possible piece of forward thinking that may have begun long before week 8: he observes that Wagner had been sent out in 7th position in each of weeks 4, 5, 6 and 7, thereby getting the same extension on his voting number (07) each week. Did anyone get so used to dialling 07 for Wagner every week they failed to notice they needed to dial 01 this time? We have no idea, but it’s a cute possibility.
2. The days running up to week 8’s show saw a couple of reported “leaks” in the media suggesting Wagner was getting a strong public vote. His odds plummeted to single-figures and he began to be talked about seriously as a potential winner. This may well have led some Wagner supporters to conclude they didn’t need to vote for him as much as before, if so many others were apparently doing so.
3. As the show begins, the running order is our first real confirmation that they are out to get Wagner this week. After seven weeks of helpful late slots, this is his first appearance in the less-favoured early part of the show – and not only that, but singing first of all.
4. He comes out singing only one song, ‘Creep’, rather than the mashups of two or three songs which he had previously been given. This gives more time for boredom to set in.
5. He has no big production for ‘Creep’ – none of the usual dancing girls to make it more visually interesting.
6. On the same theme, he has a more muted outfit than usual. Big earrings, but other than that, just an unremarkable shirt and jeans.
7. As the song progresses we get a cutaway shot showing Cheryl, who had previously picked a fight with Wagner, beaming radiantly. Another cutaway catches Simon looking thoughtful and absorbed. Then back to Cheryl, now looking entranced. In other words: not annoyed or unhappy at all to have Wagner on the show.
8. ‘Creep’ requires Wagner to sing the lines “I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don’t belong here“. Twice. And then repeat the line ‘I don’t belong here’ as the camera zooms in for the closing shot.
9. Just in case we haven’t got the message, Dannii comments that Wagner “connected with the lyrics”, and Simon continues the theme by repeating the lyrics for us: “I’m a weirdo, I don’t belong here”.
10. Dannii: “That was the best you’ve done in the whole competition”. Cheryl: “That was actually your best performance singing”. Simon: “For you, that was very good”. Translation: “You folk who are voting for Wagner because he’s bad? Actually, we don’t think he’s that bad. So don’t bother voting.”
11. Louis conspicuously fails to make an explicit appeal for people to pick up the phones and vote – something he does two songs later for the other act he is mentoring, Mary.
12. Simon, in the VT before Wagner’s second song: “If people spend money on a telephone call, then he’s entitled to be in the competition I guess”. Translation: “Thinking of voting for Wagner? Don’t forget it will cost you money.”
13. Simon, in the VT: “Do I think he’s the best singer? No. Do I think he’s interesting? Yes.” Translation: “You’re voting Wagner to annoy me? It doesn’t annoy me that much, you know.”
14. Louis to Wagner in the VT: “We could be on our way to the final”. Translation: “No need to vote, folks, Wagner’s on his way to the final anyway.”
15. Wagner’s second song – ‘Addicted to Love’ – is also one song, not a mashup.
16. Wagner’s second costume is even more understated, a plain black suit and tie with a white shirt.
17. The dancing girls are back – but they spend most of the song lying down on the stage or moving very slowly. There is none of the fun or vibrancy of earlier dancing girl routines, such as week 5’s hilarious Vegas wedding.
18. Dannii: “I’m beginning to think you have an identical brother and you sent him to sing the song before.” Translation: “That may have been bad, but hey, don’t forget the earlier song was okay”.
19. Cheryl: “I get the feeling this is the week you’ve enjoyed yourself the most, am I right?” Translation: “Wagner fans, this is as good as it gets. Let your man go out on a high.”
20: Simon: “I’m not going to lie, there is something sort of fascinating about you.” Translation: “Nope. Really doesn’t annoy me.”
21. Louis does not hammer home the point that Wagner will not be here next week if people don’t pick up the phones and vote, as he does two songs later for Mary.
22. Phone lines are already open, following the first set of songs. Instead of cutting to an ad break, which would have given several minutes of Wagner being fresh in the voting public’s mind, the show immediately follow Wagner with One Direction, one of their biggest-hitting acts.
23. Still no ad break! Most unusually for this show, they squeeze in Mary Byrne as a third song before the ads. Wagner’s performance rapidly fades from the public memory.
24. The closing reprise of Wagner’s first song repeats the “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here?” message.
25. The closing reprise of Wagner’s second song shows a part of the routine where the dancing girls turn their backs on him and walk away, subliminally suggesting that we might want to do the same.
26. Dermot confirms it will be a double elimination, allowing the show to lose Wagner if he finishes third from bottom rather than in the bottom two.
27. On the viewer phone-in on The Xtra Factor, the ITV2 follow-up show, the first caller sets up Simon to observe that after a Facebook campaign propelled Rage Against The Machine to Christmas No 1 last year ahead of the X Factor winner’s single, “I ended up calling the guys and actually saying congratulations because it kind of gave me a wake-up call”. Translation: “If you’re voting Wagner because of a campaign to protest against me, no need any more. I get it. I’ve had my wake-up call.”
28. Simon goes on to observe: “If [Wagner] wins or loses, it’s not going to change my life, genuinely. For some of these contestants up there, it genuinely will change their lives. So you’re not having a pop at me, you’re having a pop at people who’ve entered the competition fairly.” Translation: “Voting Wagner? Feel bad.”
Wagner, the show set out to get you eliminated, and the show succeeded. But we hope you don’t feel too bad about it. You had a great run, after all – seven weeks of unstinting support from the producers, which is a lot more than many contestants get. Just ask John Adeleye. You brightened our Saturdays, you came across as a real gent, and you left on a high with a perfectly-chosen swansong in ‘Unforgettable’. We will miss you.